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Will Zia boycott Hasina’s oath-taking ceremony?


Dhaka : Speculation is rife that former Bangladesh prime minister Khaleda Zia, who was defeated in last week’s poll, may boycott the oath-taking ceremony of Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina, in a repeat of what has become a political tradition in the country.

The ostensible reason, media reports said Tuesday, for Zia and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to stay away from the evening ceremony is that their ally, Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), has not been invited.

Those elected on the nomination of the Zia-led alliance did not take oath as MPs over the last weekend.

Another reason is that Zia and her party’s “presence there might be regarded as its acceptance of arch rival Awami League’s landslide victory in the recent election”, The Daily Star newspaper said quoting BNP officials.

A close aide, however, said that Zia might send a representative to the ceremony at the last moment.

The opposition to JeI stems from its top leaders being allegedly involved in atrocities against civilians at the behest of the then East Pakistan regime during the freedom movement in 1971.

While the top leaders lost in the Dec 29 poll, two JeI nominees have been elected to the ninth parliament.

The interim government’s move not to invite Jamaat was prompted by an objection from the Awami League and other pro-liberation forces, the dailoy quoted informed sources as saying.

Officials at Jamaat’s central office said they were unaware if any of their leaders had got the invitation.

Sector Commanders Forum (SCF), a platform of sector commanders in the country’s liberation war in 1971, has been running a campaign demanding the trial of war criminals since it was formed in October 2007.

President Iajuddin Ahmed, who Monday formally invited Hasina to form the new government, will administer the oath of office at a ceremony in the presidential palace at 6:00 p.m. Tuesday.

About 1,000 guests including MPs, advisers to the caretaker government, diplomats, senior civil and military officials and eminent citizens have been invited to the function.

Political analysts say one of the reasons behind BNP’s unexpected defeat in the election was its electoral alliance with Jamaat, the newspaper said.

After the poll debacle, the BNP leadership has been facing pressure both from inside and outside the party to ditch the Jamaat.

Hasina’s Awami League-led Grand Alliance won a landslide victory in the parliamentary election winning 230 seats, while its major allies Jatiya Party, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, and Worker’s Party won 27, three and two seats respectively.

On the other hand, the rival BNP-led alliance, which had ruled the country between 2001 and 2006, managed to win only 32 seats.

Once Hasina’s government is sworn in, the caretaker government of Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed, formed in January 2007 with the army’s backing, will automatically bow out a week short of two years.

Hasina had an uneven relationship with the regime that she supported, but turned critical when six criminal charges were slapped on her and she was jailed.

Hasina has said while she would continue with the ‘positive’ reforms that it had initiated, the legality of various laws and ordinances would be decided by the parliament.

Col. (retd) Oli Ahmed, a strong critic of the regime and a former freedom fighter who retained his parliament seat, said the new parliament must scrap the constitutional provision for a caretaker government.

The provision of a caretaker government taking office three months before the polls was devised as a means of providing a level-playing field to all parties.

“No country except Bangladesh has a caretaker government system. The new government under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina should repeal the system. If we politicians don’t trust each other, how can we expect people to trust us?” Ahmed said.